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Support a friend who is a victim of sexual assault

Responding with compassion, validation, and support when an individual discloses that they may have been a victim of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct, can be an important part of their healing process. Sometimes the most valuable advice comes from someone the individual already trusts. Whether you are a roommate, parent, faculty, or staff member, you should strive to respond to an individual’s disclosure with the sensitivity and respect they deserve.

What to do if a friend has been sexually assaulted 

Ensure safety – Make sure the survivor is safe. Help the survivor get to a safe place if needed. If you are concerned for their immediate safety, call 911 or the University Police (814-863-1111).

Listen – It takes incredible strength and courage for someone to disclose that they are a victim or survivor. Listen actively and without judgment. Avoid asking questions or digging for details. It’s best to allow them to control what information they share.

Believe – The single most important thing you can do to support a victim or survivor is to tell them that you believe them. Survivors often worry that they will not be believed or that they will be judged. Your reaction can influence whether or not they choose to share information with others, including the police or mental and physical health counseling services.

Provide information – Learn about the many support resources available to survivors, including medical care, evidence collection, reporting options, and counseling. The more you know, the better you can understand and support the survivor.

Let them make their own decisions – It is important to provide information but to allow the victim survivor to make their own choices. Offer to accompany the person to seek the services that they choose. Support the decisions the survivor makes, even if you don’t agree with them.

Remind them you care – Survivors may worry that they will be thought of or treated differently by other people. Let them know that that is not the case and that you are there to help them through this. The kind of support they  receive can influence their healing journey.

Don’t guarantee confidentiality – Most Penn State employees, faculty staff, and students, are considered responsible employees and must report incidents of sexual or gender-based harassment or misconduct that may violate Penn State policy and/or Title IX. At Penn State, all employees who are not confidential employees are responsible employees. If you are required to report the incident, explain your reporting responsibilities to the person who has disclosed the information to you.

Take care of yourself – Providing support to a victim survivor in the aftermath of sexual violence can be incredibly difficult. In addition to supporting the survivor, it is very important to take care of yourself. It may be helpful to reach out and talk to someone about how you are feeling.

Remember your ABC's when supporting a survivor  

  • Acknowledge – acknowledge how hard or difficult it was for someone to share this with you. Thank them for trusting you and coming to you during this difficult time.  

  • Believe – believe someone when they tell you they are a victim survivor of violence. Tell them it is not their fault. It is not your job to ask questions and be the judge and jury. It is your job to support them.  

  • Check-in – ask them how you can best support them during this time. Try not to make decisions for them, as they had a lot of power and control taken from them in this situation.  

ABC's for supporting survivors developed by Rachel A. Stewart, Ed.M.

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